Celtic 3-0 Suduva (agg 4-1): Hoops ease into Europa League group stages

Leigh Griffiths celebrates scoring the opener, and his 100th Celtic goal. Picture: SNS Group
Leigh Griffiths celebrates scoring the opener, and his 100th Celtic goal. Picture: SNS Group
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Celtic booked their place in the Europa League group stage with a stress-free victory over Suduva which allowed them to leave plenty in reserve for Sunday’s Scottish Premiership collision with fellow qualifiers Rangers.

Leigh Griffiths’ landmark 100th goal for the Scottish champions sent them on their way, with second half strikes from Callum McGregor and Kristoffer Ajer - the big Norwegian’s first for the club - completing a comfortable aggregate success.

Callum McGregor adds Celtic's second of the night. Picture: PA

Callum McGregor adds Celtic's second of the night. Picture: PA

It was a night which saw manager Brendan Rodgers able to leave key players such as James Forrest and Tom Rogic on the bench, doubtless with the weekend domestic assignment in mind.

Griffiths may have had to wait much longer than he would have liked to join the illustrious list of Celtic strikers to have scored 100 goals for the club - his breakthrough strike against the Lithuanian champions was only his fifth of an injury-hampered 2018.

But his timing could hardly have been more favourable from his point of view at a stage of the season when the possible departure of Moussa Dembele before the transfer window closes may offer him the chance to reclaim the status of Celtic’s number one striker.

With Odsonne Edouard not even among the substitutes as his return from injury is delayed until the Old Firm showdown, Griffiths was handed the front line responsibility of ensuring his club would have European group stage football to look forward to for the rest of the year.

Kristoffer Ajer celebrates scoring Celtic's third, and his first for the club. Picture: Getty Images

Kristoffer Ajer celebrates scoring Celtic's third, and his first for the club. Picture: Getty Images

There was also what has become a rare starting appearance for Scott Sinclair and the winger, still trying to rediscover the irresistible form which marked his debut season in Glasgow, was first to threaten when he cut in from the left and drove a shot just over from 22 yards in the third minute.

Suduva had to score at least once on the night to have any chance of upsetting the odds but that did not tempt them to adopt an adventurous approach. The visitors sat deep, looking to disrupt and frustrate Celtic while waiting on an opportunity to counter-attack.

Rodgers’ men were restricted to shots from distance in the early stages with Olivier Ntcham the next to try his luck as he worked some space for himself to loft an effort narrowly over.

Griffiths’ first sight of goal came in the 18th minute and he beat the ground in frustration, knowing he should have done better, after directing a close range shot straight at Ivan Kardum after the Suduva ‘keeper’s defence had failed to clear a Sinclair cross.

A mistake from Aleksandar Zivanovic presented Griffiths with his next chance, allowing him to surge into the right side of the penalty area and see another low shot gathered by Kardum.

It was a case of third time lucky for Griffiths when he put Celtic ahead in the 27th minute. Jovan Cadenovic’s foul on McGregor conceded a free-kick in territory similar to that from where Griffiths struck his memorable set piece double for Scotland against England back in the summer of 2017. Ntcham also hovered over the ball but Griffiths stepped forward and whipped a left foot strike over the defensive wall and bending away from Kardum’s stretching left hand into the corner of the net.

The goal sparked Suduva into their first attack of any note and Craig Gordon had to make a smart save to keep out an effort from the visitors’ debutant striker Sandro Gotal. Celtic suddenly had some defending to do and Dedryck Boyata continued to repair his relationship with the home support when he earned loud acclaim for a perfectly timed interception when Gotal threatened again.

The hosts were soon back in the ascendancy and Sinclair wasted a glorious chance in the 33rd minute when he latched onto a Ntcham cross but was unable to find a way past Kardum from just six yards out.

As dominant as Celtic were, there was another reminder just before the interval that there could still be milage left in the tie for Suduva when a mistake from Gordon almost let Gerson Acevedo in before Boyata again stepped in to snuff out the danger.

Celtic upped the tempo at the start of the second half and the greater injection of pace and purpose in their play had the desired effect as they shut the door firmly on any notions of a comeback from the visitors.

McGregor, so often a scorer of valuable goals in Europe, made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute when he collected a pass from Sinclair on the edge of the penalty area and calmly guided a low left foot shot beyond Kardum’s left hand.

Griffiths then missed a simple chance to add to his tally, shanking a shot wide from close range, but Celtic were in cruise control when Kristoffer Ajer grabbed their third in the 61st minute. The big defender’s looping header from a Griffiths cross beat Kardum via the inside of his left hand post.

Teenage winger Mikey Johnston and substitute Ryan Christie both missed glaring chances in the closing stages but Celtic’s job was already done.

Celtic: Gordon, Lustig, Boyata, Ajer, Tierney (Izaguirre 69); Brown, Ntcham; Johnston (Hayes 79), McGregor, Sinclair; Griffiths (Christie 65). Subs not used: Bain, Gamboa, Rogic, Forrest.

Suduva: Kardum, Svrljuga, Gaiduchik, Jankauskas, Zivanovic, Slavickas; Acevedo, Cadjenovic (Leimonas 56), Offenbacher (Verbickas 80); Cicilia, Gotal (Kasparavicius 73). Subs not used: Ridley, Cinikas, Matulevicius, Vezevicius.

Referee: G.Kabakov (Bulgaria)